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Cannabis Act Offences

The Charge

The newly enacted Cannabis Act provides a framework for legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The goals of the Act are to restrict youth access to cannabis and to provide for the legal production and distribution of cannabis while promoting safe use and public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis. The Act imposes serious criminal penalties on people who break the law, especially those who import or export cannabis illegally, produce cannabis illegally or provide cannabis to youth.

What is legal?

Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 19 or older (in British Columbia) may legally:

Purchase limited amounts of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil or cannabis plants from authorized retailers;
Possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form;
Consume cannabis in locations authorized by local jurisdictions;
Grow up to 4 plants per household;
Share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent with other adults.

What remains illegal?

All possession, production and distribution outside the legal system of the Cannabis Act remains illegal. The Act sets out various offences for “Criminal Activities,” with up to a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

To protect youth, the Cannabis Act prohibits selling cannabis to anyone under 18 years of age. Giving or selling cannabis to youth or involving a youth to commit a cannabis related offence (such as distribution) are punishable by jail.

Possession of illicit cannabis is unlawful under the Act. Illicit cannabis is cannabis obtained from a source other than a government or other licenced cannabis retailer.

Ticketable Offences

The Cannabis Act, under section 51, sets out that for the more minor cannabis offences, police may commence proceedings by issuing a ticket and a summons to attend court. The types of ticketable offences include minor contraventions such as:

  • Possessing more than 30 but less than 50 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent;
  • Possessing up to 50 grams of illicit cannabis;
  • Distributing or selling up to 50 grams of cannabis;
  • Possessing 5 or 6 cannabis plants.

The fine for most Cannabis Act ticketable offences is $200.00. Of note, if a person pays the fine within the time period set out by regulation, the person, under s. 52 is found guilty but deemed to have received an absolute discharge.

Criminal Offences

Other than the ticketable offences for minor cannabis offences, the Cannabis Act calls for the criminal prosecutions in cases where, for example, the person is charged with:

  • Possessing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a public place;
  • Distributing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent);
  • Distributing cannabis to an individual under 19 years of age (in British Columbia);
  • Exporting cannabis;
  • Producing, cultivating, propagating or harvesting cannabis in excess of 6 plants without authorization.

Recent Successes

R. vs. J.F. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Possession for the purpose of Trafficking; Obstruct Police.
Issue: Whether the cocaine found by police was intended for sale or for personal use, and whether it was in the public interest to prosecute.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information to Crown counsel which resulted in Crown agreeing to drop all charges upon our client successfully completing the Alternative Measures Program.

R. vs. A.O. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Possession of a loaded restricted handgun, without a permit.
Issue: Whether the Crown could prove that our client did anything more than briefly touch the gun while he a passenger in a vehicle.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade the trial judge that our client's actions were minimal and that his youthful age and lack of record allowed him to be granted  a conditional discharge. No conviction. No jail.

R. vs. S.S. - Nelson Provincial Court

Charges: Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking (MDMA, Ketamine, Cocaine).
Issue: Given the nature of the search and seizure, the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, and given the recent changes to the mandatory minimum jail sentence for this offence, whether our client was eligible for a non-custodial sentence.
Result: Notwithstanding the large amount of drugs involved (approximately 2 kgs), Mr. Johnson was able to persuade the court to impose a conditional sentence of two years, less one day. No jail.

R. vs. D.M. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Given the provocation that preceded the incident, what  the appropriate sentence would be.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade the court to sentence our client to a period of probation of 12 months. No jail.

R. vs. B.K. - New Westminster Provincial Court

Charge: Indecent Act.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings upon our client completing an extensive course of counselling. No criminal record.

R. vs. K.L. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Theft Over $5000 (from employer).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether she would be sentenced to jail.
Result: After steering our client through counselling and arranging her repayment of the misappropriated funds, Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to not seek a. jail sentence. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions on our client's behalf, the court granted a suspended sentence and placed our client on probation for 18 months. No jail.

R. vs. A.A. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault; Uttering threats; assault, Breach of Release Order.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel that there was no realistic chance of conviction on the sex assault charge and Crown proceeded only on the assault charge to which our client pleaded guilty. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge and Crown entered stays of proceeding on the remaining 3 counts. No jail, no criminal conviction.

R. vs. A.S. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving while prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with this charge which carries a mandatory one year driving prohibition upon conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide Crown counsel with information that concluded our client was not at all responsible for the motor vehicle accident and persuaded Crown to proceed on the lesser offence of driving without aa valid license. Our client was sentenced to a fine and a 3 month driving prohibition.

R. vs. L.M. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Mischief Over $5000; Assault Police Officer.
Issue: Whether the sentence ought to emphasize punishment or rehabilitation in this matter where our client was alleged to have caused over $100,000 in damage to his building.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide Crown counsel with materials confirming the rehabilitative steps our client had taken for his mental health. The cRown stayed the assault police officer charge and, after hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge and placed him on probation. No jail.

R. vs. D.R. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on the assault charge. Our client entered into a 12 month Peace Bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.Z. - Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to direct our client through, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with this prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide Crown counsel with information that allowed him to persuade Crown to enter a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.C. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Driving While Prohibited.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for Crown to proceed with the prosecution of this offence which carries a 12 month mandatory minimum driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the lesser offence of driving without a valid licence. Our client received a $500 fine and a 30 day driving prohibition.

The Defence

Because the Cannabis Act retains the power to regulate and punish for “criminal activity” associated with unauthorized distribution and possession of cannabis, criminal law defences will continue to apply to cannabis prosecutions.

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search. As experienced drug lawyers, we will analyze the actions of investigating officers to test whether police have, in fact, conducted a lawful search, based on reasonable grounds. Where police overreach their authority, and conduct a search based on a mere hunch or suspicion we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search excluded at trial. Without the admission of the cannabis that was unlawfully obtained, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Cannabis was not for the purpose of distribution or sale

In order to prove that possession was for the purpose of distribution or sale, the Crown will usually bring a police expert to court who will testify that the circumstances of the seizure, along with the packaging and weight of the cannabis tend to prove that the cannabis was intended to be distributed. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert opinion that the circumstances of the cannabis seizure are only consistent with distribution and not simple possession. In many cases we have succeeded in negotiating possession for distribution charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without cannabis directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and cannabis is found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for distribution but none of the cannabis is found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the cannabis in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting cannabis offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.